Louis A. Cona M.D.
Here we describe how stem cells may be able to treat liver disease.
Liver disease has had an increasing incidence and become a troubling cause of death in more people each year. It accounts for over 33,500 deaths in the U.S. alone every year. Unfortunately, past treatments for damaged or diseased livers have been plagued with issues. Treatments are often rarely available, too expensive, or come with large costs of quality of life for patients. However, advances in stem cell treatments have created a new path toward regaining their health for patients with liver disease.
Cirrhosis of the liver is characterized by the internal scarring and subsequent dysfunction of the liver. Cirrhosis can be caused by many different conditions, but most notable is due to alcohol consumption or viral hepatitis B and C. Although certain parts of the liver have been shown to able to naturally regenerate, the only proven treatment for end-stage liver disease is a full liver transplant. Unfortunately, this treatment is extremely expensive, donors are hard to come by, and there is a risk of rejection of the organ by the patient's body. Stem cells have the unique ability to morph or differentiate into different types of cells within the body. In this way, stem cells can be used to seek out damaged liver tissue and regenerate the organ itself.
Although available data is limited and tests are still ongoing, a study ran by PubMed in 2013 used 11 clinical trials to test the use of stem cells on damaged liver patients. The independent trials showed that not only were stem cells a safe form of intravenous treatment for liver failure, but all of the trials reported positive results. The results ranged from improvements to quality of life and quantitatively improving liver function, to reducing morbidity and mortality. The studies showed patients to have a significant decrease in the MELD score (The Model for End-Stage Liver Disease), MELD score measures the risk of mortality in patients with liver disease.
Liver disease is difficult to treat, but stem cell treatments have provided a bright future for patients. While the positive results of treatment are continuing to be reported, some patients find the lack of a required transplant reason enough to seek potential treatment. There have already been numerous success stories for patient recovery without the need for transplant. With transplant costs reaching over $150,000 for the first year after treatment, stem cells are providing patients with an affordable and sustainable way forward.
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